VICTORVILLE – Mesa Linda Middle School teacher Vanessa Kutscha’s introduction to Josh Speiginer was a strange encounter of a different kind.
“He wanted to hide in my classroom during lunch,” she explained. “and I wasn’t even technically his teacher.” After being stuffed in a garbage can, having trash thrown at him, and finding yogurt dumped in his backpack, Speiginer was tired of being bullied.
Thankfully, things have changed.
Seven years later — after training at the Haus of Gaga, in addition to performing in music videos for Rihanna, and Jennifer Lopez — he is returning to his alma mater with his dance troupe to perform at anti-bullying assemblies Friday. This time he expects to have other dancers backing him up from his group called Cali X Auras.
“I’m doing this to help others get away from the negativity,” Speiginer said.
Bullying started for him in junior high. He liked dancing and others didn’t consider that normal for a boy. “He was called homophobic names,” said his mother, Christel Reyna.
It didn’t stop at name-calling.
Later, at a local high school, he was jumped by several boys in a corner of the school as 50 to 60 people watched, with some capturing the pre-planned event on video and posting it to social media. This led to the prosecution of the attackers and Speiginer transferring to a school in Orange County.
“I still have scars on my head,” he commented. Discouraged and depressed, Speiginer contemplated suicide. Sometimes cutting himself seemed like the only release. But then there were teachers like Kutscha who helped him survive his teenage years, said Speiginer, now 20. Music and dance also helped. “It helped me escape my reality,” he explained.
Additional help came from the East Coast.
“Lady Gaga pulled me out of my cage,” Speiginer said. “It helped hearing other people say it’s OK to be you.” Later, he had the chance to dance onstage with her, Reyna said. He has also been in music videos for Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez, she said. He worked with Katie Perry for the MTV music awards, Reyna said, adding he has worked as an actor on The Real O’Neil’s show.
Things have also changed at Mesa Linda.
“We do not tolerate bullying at Mesa Linda,” said Principal Alicia Tuttle, who started her position in 2017.
Each week teachers at the middle school lead classes about the dangers of bullying, as well as how to identify and prevent it. The school also has a bullying hotline for students to call.
Speiginer’s dance performance is part of the anti-bullying campaign. His group will be performing for students Friday, September 8 at three morning assemblies.